This is one of those posts which I have written without thinking really, because I have been encouraged to write for myself, and no other audience. I’m just blethering, like you would talk to someone in a nursing home or a coma. I don’t think any of my readership or one or t’other, but it would be interesting to know if you are.

Quiet Moments

During yoga, we are asked to find in our minds a quiet place where we feel safe. I close my eyes and remember lying in my garden on a very hot day, next to my dog. The grass is freshly mown, prickly and pungent. Miggy feels and smells hot, the way she smells only when she’s in the sun. She is panting, her breath regular and heavy, faster than mine.

I liked to imagine that Miggy was my sister, telling myself we looked like twins as we both had brown eyes and blonde-ish hair (mine was the colour of dirty washing-up water, hers was ginger). I put my cheek to her ribcage and my nose in her fur, and try to match my breathing to hers. Which makes me feel a bit light-headed.

The Thirteenth Tale is about twins (see what I did there?!). It’s quite extraordinary really because it’s very poetic for a novel, and it was Diane Setterfield’s debut. I couldn’t quite believe that when I read the book notes because it’s so assured. I give it my highest accolade – I will give it as a gift to others, and I’ll get the rest of her stuff out of the library.

After that I tried The Secret Hunters by Ranulph Fiennes, which was recommended to me bv a friend. It was based on a diary which Fiennes found in a cabin during one of his expeditions to the Arctic/Antarctic (I always get mixed up between the two – but it’s cold wherever it is, mkay?) and I’ve been excited to get my hands on it, but I can’t read anymore as yet because it made me burst into tears, which surprised me as I was in rather a positive mood. It’s the story of a man who discovers his family were butchered during the Holocaust, and he sets about to revenge their deaths. I can’t digest real life horror the way I used to;  I have become more sensitive to it – because it all happened, and the cruelty and brutality that people like you or I are capable of is terrifying. I had to read a bit of Jeeves & Wooster (the one where he tries to convince Anatole the chef to defect) to recover.

I’ll pick up The Secret Hunters when I feel stronger; when I have reminded myself that for all its dreadful history, mankind also has a lot of good in it.

Random Thoughts Which Came To Me In The Bath/ Washing Up/ Chopping Onions/ Cleaning Out The Gerbils / Epilating

Is there any better feeling in the world than the buzz and terror and exhilaration of performing and then the audience applauding? I’ve got tears running down my face watching Torvill & Dean perform Bolero, and my skin is prickled all over like I’m a hedgehog turned inside-out. I last heard that sound when I was 17. It’d be nice to hear it again before I die.

This week I got a bottle of For Her, a perfume I haven’t worn in some time. I had spent about a year trying to find on to replace it with and decided I liked it too much to replace it with anythign else. It arrived on Friday. I sprayed it on my wrist and sniffed and I was in my 20s again; out on the town in a skirt too short for my own good;  I was young and sexy and skinny(ish) if not happy. I want to wear it again now I’m none of the first three, but finally, perhaps, the fourth … I wonder if the latter has anything in common with the former…

People I would like to be like this week:

– Ayrton Senna. He had real drive (to pardon the pun), and achieved what he wanted to do. I can still remember watching the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix when he died and feeling sad all day even though I wasn’t convinced that “brain death” meant you weren’t ever going to wake up. We used to watch the Grand Prix while eating our Sunday lunch (we are probably as a family to blame for the decline of the family meal) and I don’t think any of us took another mouthful after that crash.

– Nelson Mandela. Because he was such a decent person when he could have been a real knob, and totally understandably so. Considering I feel ike eviscerating drivers who don’t signal/people who don’t hold the door open behind them/those who jump on the tube without waiting for others to get off, I can’t imagine I’d be any sort of peace-maker after 27 years in jail. I keep meaning to try, and then something happens and I lose my temper again. I ought to work harder at being a nicer person, but I’d rather do that without going to jail.


Why reading is good for your health

So I started reading Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy and didn’t like it. Four pages in I felt bridgetlike giving up. 10 years ago – 15? – I loved Bridget. She was the poster girl for all us chubby rather foolish individuals who wanted their Happy Ever After. But the latest book all felt a bit passe, a bit forced. The ‘comedy moments’ were not really comic – it wasn’t really believable (not that Mark Darcy falling for Bridget was ever believable). Having said that there is genuine beauty in the writing – moments of emotion which gave me a real pang. So while it didn’t have the magic of the earlier books, I’m glad I finished it.

Still, what winds me up is that Bridget attracts all these men, just by being ridiculous. I am frequently ridiculous, and nobody has ever fallen in love with me because of it (or because of anything else really). Well someone did when I was 11 but I was so furious with him nobody has ever dared since – and he certainly didn’t look like Colin Firth nor Hugh Grant. And since when has anyone been loved because they are “just the way they are?” If that were true self-help books would have died out with the dodo. (Who could have done with reading one so he could learn how to fly.)

Helen Fielding is as bad as Richard Curtis for making us think that fluffy stories like theirs happen in real life.

Still, it’s fun to dream.

Speaking of special women – I finally got my hands on Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. This is one of those books which has been sitting on my wishlist (belonging to the company which Shall Not Be Named) for about 3 years, as I waited for it to come to my library. Until I decided not to wait anymore and ordered it like a Real Grown Up. I’m so glad I did. It’s a haunting, beautiful and devastating story about the Pendle witch trials in the 17th century. Oof, I put it down and felt all empty and sad but in a good way.

And, speaking of haunting – The Haunting of Hill House is a distinctly disturbing book. Again in a good way. I was expecting it to be a bit different because I got Shirley Jackson mixed up with Shirley Conran and Savages which I read when I was far too young.

Rocks In The Belly by Jon Bauer made me cross because I kept expecting it to be better than it was. It had some real insights into what it is to be a child, but those insights just kept going on, and on, and on…

You Came Back was better. The story of a couple who have lost their son, and started to move on with their lives – only to be told that he haunts their old house. I really couldn’t see where it was going, and it was nerve-jangling and devastating. Christopher Coake, the author, puts his hand into your chest and wrenches out your heart. Ouch. (In a good way)

The King’s Grave, by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones, was about a haunting but not a ghost – Philippa is haunted by Richard III. She is the driving force behind the dig for his grave under a car park (of all places – you’d have thought they might have noticed) and strongly believes that he has been much maligned through history. Being a history lover I was gripped by the search for Richard’s bones and when the skeleton discovered turned out to be his I was quite emotional. Langley does get a bit carried away with her obsession for Richard but hey why not, we’ve all been obsessed with mysterious men (Macaulay Culkin for me) and without Philippa Richard would probably have lain under that car park for another 500 years. The argument is now to decide where he is to be buried; people have suggested Gloucester, but surely the poor bloke has suffered enough.

Her Privates We read as if the author (Frederick Manning) was sitting on the shoulder of the soldier he wrote about. Which he was as he lived through what his protagonist, Bourne, experiences during the Somme. It’s about the men of the war, not the soldiers; brutally honest, funny, devastating, almost unbearably graphic at times. One of the best books I have read about World War 1.

Rivers of Destiny – oh Barbara, not one of your best, but really, does it matter, when you write such fabulous historical fantasy. The present-day story in Erskine’s books always pales when compared to the ancient world she weaves around the reader. The research she puts into her work is phenomenal and really pays off. She’s one of my favourite “rainy day” authors. Curled up with a howling gale outside and a mug of hot chocolate. And a burning fire and a dog, if possible, please.

From the mists of time to the fluorescent light of the furture: The Circle by Dave Eggars is addictive and horrifying and so bloody REAL. The creeping vine of whoever it is who wants to know all about us and to connect us all to each other forever has already got a strong grip on society, and our world is getting uncomfortably smaller. Anyone who has ever used the Internet, read this book. And be warned.

But don’t stop going online, obviously. Don’t stop reading and connecting with people. Just keep it to a minimum – like, articles which make you think (so STAY AWAY from the mailonline and who looks thin/fat this week), and recipes you can make with stuff in your cupboard (not bizarre things only stocked in very large branches of Wholefoods), and discussion forums where you make friends for life, and odd little blogs about odd little lives with reading recommendations dropped in unexpectedly, like juicy blueberries in a rather stodgy muffin. Consider it, perhaps, one of your five a day.